‘March with UCLH nurses to Downing Street today’ – urges Homerton Unison shop steward at anti-strike bill rally

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A section of the crowd – determined to defend the right to strike

OVER 2,000 trade unionists, workers and youth joined an emergency 6.00pm demonstration called by the trade unions in Whitehall opposite Downing Street on Monday night, as the new Tory anti-strike bill had its second reading in the House of Commons.

While Tory Business Secretary Grant Shapps was boasting to MPs that the new law will give him the power to fire workers for striking and to fine unions for calling strikes, trade union leaders and Labour MPs outside told the angry demonstrators that the bill must be defeated and the Tories kicked out.

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill enables health, transport, fire service, border force, nuclear and education bosses to sack workers for going on strike and for courts to fine unions millions of pounds if they fail to provide what Shapps decides is a ‘minimum service’ level during a strike.

The Tories won the Second Reading vote on the Bill in the House of Commons on Monday night by 309 votes to 249 and it is being rushed through the parliamentary process, with the prospect of it becoming law within a few months.

The rousing rally concluded with Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the transport union RMT, telling the angry crowd: ‘There are some people missing tonight. We’ve got Jeremy and other MPs, but there’s a big question – where is the Labour front bench tonight?

‘We demand that they pledge a Labour government to abolish these laws.

‘Everywhere I go people are saying let’s change the economy, let’s change this society.

‘We say, stand up for socialism, stand up for the workers, fight for redistribution.

‘People are crying out for it. Let’s make sure we change society, and we will not be waiting for professional politicians to do it for us.

‘The future is in our hands and no-one is going to stop us.

‘The working class is back and we are going to fight for our rights.

‘We are together, we are getting stronger, we are unstoppable.

‘We are going to change this country forever – let’s fight for it now and commit ourselves to doing it,’ he concluded to huge cheers.

Opening the rally, UCU university and college lecturers union General Secretary Jo Grady congratulated the NEU teachers union for its 90% strike ballot result which had just been announced at 5.00pm, saying: ‘The NEU has smashed their ballot result!

‘Join them on their picket lines and join us on our picket lines when we call 18 more days of strike action in March. We have to support all the unions that are fighting today.’

Unison shop steward and NHS Workers Say No rep, Jordan Raveira said: ‘The last few years have got worse and worse in the NHS and now, to deny us the right to strike is to treat us like slaves.

‘The Tories are attacking health workers and saying they are bringing in this law because we aren’t providing safe levels of staffing – but having just one qualified nurse on a ward is not safe – and they’re responsible for that.

‘I want to mention the Public Order Bill as well, under which they are trying to stop demonstrations like this. The right to protest and the right to strike are both basic rights – the reason they are trying to stop us is because they are afraid of us.

‘Before I finish I want to invite you to join our march on Wednesday at 2.30pm from UCH (University College Hospital) and we’re marching to here again, to Downing Street.’

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: ‘Greetings from the TUC – representing 48 unions and five-and-a-half million workers – our message is that we will fight for the right to strike.

‘Health Secretary Steven Barclay told a lie,’ Nowak alleged. ‘It’s not nurses that are harming the NHS, it’s Barclay and it’s the Tories. On February 1st I’m calling on the British public to support our Right to Strike Day.

‘On that day there will be 100,000 NEU members on strike, 100,000 PCS members and tens of thousands of UCU members – join us if you are serious about winning this struggle.’

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘There is just one reason they are bringing in new laws to attack our members – they want to drive down our wages.

‘We’re in the middle of a ballot of the FBU for a substantial pay rise and we will announce the result of the ballot on 30th January.

‘Under the Tories we’ve lost 12,000 firefighter jobs, 200 fire engines and 50 fire stations. We won’t accept the Tory cuts, we won’t comply, we will resist every step of the way and we have the support of the masses who are sick of corporations bloated with profits while the people are told to tighten their belts.

‘We have to stop them in their tracks and drive them from office.’

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, said: ‘Congratulations to the NEU for smashing their ballot. Victory to the NEU. I’ve just come across from Parliament where I’ve been hearing Tory after Tory attacking key workers, saying they’re greedy and selfish.

‘This is an anti-worker bill from an anti-worker government that threatens the civil liberties of us all. Britain already has some of the worst anti-union laws in the world. The only way to defeat this bill is politically and on the streets.’

Unite officer Onay Kasab said: ‘What kind of people threaten to put nurses out of work? I’ll tell you – Tories, that’s who.

‘Grant Shapps said that the primary responsibility of of government is to protect the citizens. Well, it’s the trade unions that protect the citizens against the government and I say, down with any government that wants to repress the trade unions.’

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham, said: ‘I’ve just come out from the debate and all we heard from the Tories was attacks against ambulance workers.

‘I was on the ambulance workers’ picket lines and they are providing emergency cover, it’s the government that is completely failing. There is no bigger threat to the people of this country than this government sitting in there.’

Chris Webb of the Communication Workers Union said: ‘I’m proud to bring the support of 190,000 CWU members, 115,000 of them postal workers who have taken 18 days of strike action all across the country and they are rock solid. We have just served notice to the government today of another national industrial action ballot.

‘The CWU believes we have to take the fight to the streets. Congratulations to the NEU for a phenomenal result. The whole country and the working class is behind you and we are rising up.’

Unison president Andrea Egan said: ‘We’ve been dormant for too long. We’ve got no other option but to take action, take on the bosses, don’t bend the knee.

‘Not all our battles will be settled in the courts, our industrial muscle must bring them down.’

GMB National Secretary Andy Prendergast said: ‘For them in Parliament, every step forward for a worker is a step back for a boss.

‘But we’re not going back to poverty, we are striking in the NHS because it’s the only choice we have. If this bill goes through the right to strike will disappear altogether.’

Fran Heathcote, President of the civil servants’ union PCS, said: ‘We will be out on strike on 1st February alongside the UCU and now the NEU. We will defend the right to strike.

‘They want to conscript workers, it’s class warfare, we won’t stand for it. We need to join together and stand together.’

Speaking just ahead of Mick Lynch at the end of the rally, former Labour leader and Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘Grant Shapps is trying to bring in a law eliminating trade unions. In 1970 Heath tried the same thing, but there was a heroic strike, the Pentonville Five were released and Heath failed.

‘The Tories want driver only trains, postal workers owning a van and having to deliver like Amazon, he’s attacking teachers, nurses, railway workers, but they are fighting and they are winning.

‘We are also marching for the next generation. We’ve got hungry children in schools – it’s hard to concentrate when you’ve got an empty stomach. We can’t afford these disgusting levels of inequality. We have to defeat them.

‘They have stood up to the dictators in Brazil and other places and beaten them and we will do the same. The fight of our multi-cultural society will inspire the next generation.’

A number of workers attending the rally also spoke to News Line about why they had come.

Paul Atherton, a film-maker from Paddington, said: ‘I’m a social campaigner supporting all kinds of issues including welfare and homelessness. We’re in a time of seismic change. We’re not products, we’re not commodities, we’re people who make our own destiny. I think a general strike is essential.’

Hanna Solman from Twickenham said: ‘I work for the NHS, paid for by a social inclusion charity. I work in the local mental healthcare team in Newham and we support individuals with their mental health needs which are often caused by social issues – like they don’t have adequate housing, unemployment issues, education issues and a lot of issues with the Home Office.

‘I think this government is a disgusting cop-out government and their anti-strike law must be defeated. I would definitely support the call for a general strike 100%.’

Colin Whickman, an IT consultant from Wimbledon, said: ‘Whilst I’m not a member of a trade union my father was a trade unionist, a GMB shop steward and a paramedic, or an ambulance driver as they called them then. He joined the NHS in 1953.

‘I fear for the NHS today and I fully support the strikes. I am here because I believe the right to strike is a fundamental right. I would support the call for a general strike.’